Honors Program Theses


Open Access Honors Program Thesis

First Advisor

Elizabeth Sutton, Honors Thesis Advisor


Art objects, African--Collectors and collecting;


This research project surveys the overlap of Western notions of authenticity, encounters with Africa, and the ethics of collecting and displaying of African art objects. First, I define the issues surrounding definitions of authenticity; second, I lay out the historical background of Western interaction with West Africa and modern demand for African art objects; third I discuss the issues authenticity and corresponding ethics of display; finally, I explain how this information applies to two objects from the UNI Museum collection. In this thesis, I address the ways the categories of “authentic,” “fake,” and replica are intertwined in the history of Western collecting of African art and its concomitant impact on the creation of art in Africa, particularly West Africa. By exploring the colonization of West Africa by Western (here defined as Europe and North America) nations, we can understand how the first objects from Africa stolen and removed by the British during the 1897 punitive raid on Benin, as well as objects taken by European anthropologists and “explorers” were instrumental in establishing an economic value of the objects sought and sold today. The sale and dissemination of those objects into museums helped to shape the way the first collectors conceptualized artifacts they took from Africa. This created a framework through which subsequent collectors and museums have collected and presented the work in the present. Today, museums and galleries, as well as private collectors,influence what is produced for the African tourist art market, thus affecting several facets:production, how objects are acquired, and the display of objects out of their original context. This is a question of supply and demand: the demand is for a particular notion of art, so artists supply what is desired.

Year of Submission



Department of Art

University Honors Designation

A thesis submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the designation University Honors

Date Original


Object Description

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